Transport Policy: What It Can and What It Can?t Do?

Transport Policy: What It Can and What It Can?t Do?


Bert van Wee, Delft University of Technology, NL



There is a lot of debate among both scientists and policy makers about what transport policy can and can not do. In some cases, such as the impact of land use on travel behavior, it is almost a discussion between believers and non-believers. Based on 25 years of experience in policy related research this paper tries to answer the question in the title, focusing on the (potential) impact of public policy on the dominant reasons for policy intervention in surface transport: accessibility/congestion, the environment, and safety. The paper is based on (1) on a conceptual model for determinants for accessibility, the environment, and safety, (2) a systematic overview of policy instruments: pricing, regulations, infrastructure provision, land use planning, marketing, information and communication, and (c) impacts of these instruments on: transport volume, modal split, technology, efficiency of using vehicles, and driving behavior. Conclusions are firstly that (EU) regulations have been successful for reducing the emissions of pollutants and improving vehicle safety, but not for noise and radical innovations. Pricing has been successful in case of subsidies (mainly: public transport), and levies on fuel, and on vehicles. Introducing road pricing is much more complicated due to a lack of political support or support from society. Infrastructure planning is to a large extent a policy issue, having major impacts on travel behavior, land use and locations choices. However, the impacts of new roads on congestion are often overestimated, and the impact on the environment is diverse. Infrastructure policy has successfully contributed to the decrease in road fatalities in most western countries. The impact of policies on land use varies strongly between countries. In some countries, the role of the government is strong, in other much less so. But even then the contribution to improvements in safety, congestion and the environment is limited, though certainly not absent. It is argued that if land use planning concepts like new urbanism did effectively generate options for reductions in (motorized) travel, but not in practice, it must have resulted in large accessibility benefits. The impact of marketing, information, and communications by the government has been limited. The paper finally concludes that policy options should be evaluated much broader than only on the impacts on accessibility, the environment, and safety, and must also include criteria such as financial implications, preferences of people, and distributional effects.


Association for European Transport